An Argument for (Pragmatic) Goal Easement

Consistency and momentum are two of the most powerful, related forces.

If goals are set randomly without any basis in reality one is likely to fail … hard. This is demoralizing and will lead to quick retreat.

Realistic goal setting is always hard but becomes especially difficult in business. We want to immediately shoot for the moon with our sales numbers and we have large imaginations when it comes to scale but if we we’re working with someone with little to no experience we’re just inserting her into a broken process; a process that won’t work consistently and build momentum. We wouldn’t tell someone that never exercises to start running 10 miles per day for the next year. but we often place ourselves and our sales teams into unrealistic, pressurized vices of the same sort that just lead to failure.

Failure is probably inevitable but I argue that when it happens we ought to revaluate and give ourselves the ability to claw back on our expectation. If we’re failing it means we need to get stronger first. Easing back on goals doesn’t mean persisting with easy daily quotas forever, it means easing to a place of consistency and starting a process of continual daily improvement. We can have continual daily improvement without consistency. Small, slow, steady growth over time is far better than retreat and atrophy.

Jeff Bezos shares a funny anecdote in his latest shareholder that relates to realistic expectations of scope:

A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good. She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently this is an actual thing that exists. In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. “Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.” Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.

In addition, one of the most powerful ideas, and drawings supporting this idea, in Dalio’s Principles is included below. It depicts a process of continual improvement. Here he refers to them as “Audacious Goals” and I’d argue that a “Learning Principle” is maybe, “Let’s be slightly less audacious right now to create momentum and have a process for ratcheting up audacity over time.”

The key thing is to stay in the game and create a virtuous cycle and if we don’t recalibrate because we’re too audacious with our goals, initially, we’ll never move up the ladder.




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